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Enlightenment NOW!!!


A while back I bumped into a little book called The Zen Commandments by a fellow named Dean Sluyter. Sluyter (rhymes with "brighter") is a Buddhist teacher and a very good one, with lessons tailored mainly to reach people who don't see themselves as "spiritual" but nonetheless are willing to listen to any good advice about how to quell the buzzing in their heads.

Sluyter conducted an interview recently (can't find the link right now, sorry) where he talked about how there's this criticism, a totally valid one, of modern Western Buddhist practice, in that much of it ends up becoming Zen Lite. That said, he feels there's a lot to be said for johnny-on-the-spot style exercises, the stuff you can do in thirty seconds while waiting for the light to change.

It's important not to lose sight of why Buddhism is supposed to be a lot more than mindfulness-based stress reduction (god, I hate that term). I'm no fan of how Buddhism gets denatured into something little more than a punch line. But Sluyter's right: sometimes people just need a way to get through the bad moment they're in. If that "gets people into the tent," as he put it, then fine; you can always open up for them all the more complex stuff later on. But if you give them something they can use now, and not at any great cost to either them or you, also fine.

Sluyter explained all this by way of an analogy from one of his own teachers: "When you need change for the parking meter, it's more important to have twenty-five cents than a hundred-dollar bill." A little practical advice that people can use now is, for most people, far more than a whole volume of the most elaborately articulated philosophy. because most people will never read it. But if they read something on the first page that they can work with, then maybe in time they'll pick an afternoon, settle down with some joe, and read the whole thing.

This goes into the one takeaway I try to keep in mind at all times about Buddhism, that it's a practice path and not just a theory. From time to time I see social media posts from a couple of people who are fans of modern continental philosophy. They read Badiou and Žižek (points for anyone who even know who they are) and write rhapsodic discussions about all the nuanced details of this or that implication of their thinking. But I never see them talk about whether or not this stuff helps them be less of a jerk. I know full well not every philosophical strain is meant to be practical, but at the end of the day I feel it ends up being that way whether we like it or not. If I'm the smartest guy on the block but I'm still a douche, even the other smart apples on the block are more likely to remember me for being a douche than a genius.

Again, back to my original point, which was (as Sluyter himself put it), "The desire for something quick is not itself wrong." He pointed out that teachers need to not get bound up in the idea that they have to sell the whole tamale to their students at once, that practical advice is not necessarily a denaturing of the wisdom; sometimes it's the best incarnation of it. I know why some teachers get wound up about this stuff, because they know the history of their discipline, and they don't want to see it reduced to something trivial. But giving people something to get through their day isn't trivial. There's whole other disciplines of thought that don't ever do that. They're nice in theory. No so much in practice.


Tags: Buddhism  Dean Sluyter  Zen  spiritual teachers  spirituality 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/05/27 17:00.

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